ONCE in summer-time the bear and the wolf were walking in the forest, and the bear heard a bird singing so beautifully that he said, "Brother wolf, what bird is it that sings so well?"
"That is the king of birds," said the wolf, "before whom we must bow down." It was, however, in reality the willow-wren (Zaunkönig). "If that's the case," said the bear, "I should very much like to see his royal palace; come, take me there."
"That is not done quite as you seem to think," said the wolf; "you must wait till the queen comes."
Soon afterwards, the queen arrived with some food in her beak, and the lord king came too, and they began to feed their young ones. The bear would have liked to go at once, but the wolf held him back by the sleeve, and said, "No, you must wait until the lord and lady queen have gone away again."
So they observed the hole in which was the nest, and trotted away. The bear, however, could not rest until he had seen the royal palace, and when a short time had passed, again went to it. The king and queen had just flown out, so he peeped in and saw five or six young ones lying in it.
"Is that the royal palace?" cried the bear; "it is a wretched palace, and you are not king's children, you are disreputable children!"
When the young wrens heard that, they were frightfully angry, and screamed, "No, that we are not! Our parents are honest people! Bear, you will have to pay for that!"
The bear and the wolf grew uneasy, and turned back and went into their holes. The young willow-wrens, however, continued to cry and scream, and when their parents again brought food they said, "We will not so much as touch one fly's leg, no, not if we were dying of hunger, till you have settled whether we are respectable children or not; the bear has been here and has insulted us!"
Then the old king said, "Be easy, he shall be punished," and he at once flew with the queen to the bear's cave, and called in, "Old growler, why have you insulted my children? You shall suffer for it - we will punish you by a bloody war."
Thus war was announced to the bear, and all four-footed animals were summoned to take part in it, oxen, donkeys, cows, deer, and every other animal on the earth. And the willow-wren summoned everything which flew in the air, not only birds, large and small, but midges, and hornets, bees and flies had to come.
When the time came for the war to begin, the willow-wren sent out spies to discover who was the enemy's commander-in-chief. The gnat, who was the most crafty, flew into the forest where the enemy was assembled, and hid herself beneath a leaf of the tree where the watchword was to be given. There stood the bear, and he called the fox before him and said, "Fox, you are the most cunning of all animals, you shall be general and lead us."
"Good," said the fox, "but what signal shall we agree on?" No one knew that, so the fox said, "I have a fine long bushy tail, which almost looks like a plume of red feathers. When I lift my tail up quite high, all is going well, and you must charge; but if I let it hang down, run away as fast as you can."
When the gnat had heard that, she flew away again, and revealed everything, with the greatest minuteness, to the willow-wren.
When day broke, and the battle was to begin, all the four-footed animals came running up with such a noise that the earth trembled. The willow-wren also came flying through the air with his army with such a humming and whirring and swarming that everyone was uneasy and afraid, and on both sides they advanced against each other. But the willow-wren sent down the hornet, with orders to get beneath the fox's tail, and sting with all his might. When the fox felt the first sting, he started so that he drew up one leg with the pain, but he bore it, and still kept his tail high in the air. At the second sting, he was forced to put it down for a moment. At the third, he could hold out no longer, and screamed out and put his tail between his legs. When the animals saw that, they thought all was lost, and began to fly, each into his hole and the birds had won the battle.
Then the king and queen flew home to their children and cried, "Children, rejoice, eat and drink to your heart's content, we have won the battle!"
But the young wrens said, "We will not eat yet, the bear must come to the nest, and beg for pardon and say that we are honourable children, before we will do that."
Then the willow-wren flew to the bear's hole and cried, "Growler, you are to come to the nest to my children, and beg their pardon, or else every rib of your body shall be broken."
So the bear crept there in the greatest fear, and begged their pardon. And now at last the young wrens were satisfied, and sat down together and ate and drank, and made merry till quite late into the night.
An aged count once lived in Switzerland, who had an only son, but he was stupid, and could learn nothing. Then said the father, "Hark you, my son, I can get nothing into your head, let me try as I will. You must go from hence, I will give you into the care of a celebrated master, who shall see what he can do with you."
The youth was sent into a strange town, and remained a whole year with the master. At the end of this time, he came home again, and his father asked, "Now, my son, what have you learnt?"
"Father, I have learnt what the dogs say when they bark."
"Lord have mercy on us!" cried the father; "is that all you have learnt? I will send you into another town, to another master."
The youth was taken there, and stayed a year with this master likewise. When he came back the father again asked, "My son, what have you learnt?" He answered, "Father, I have learnt what the birds say."
Then the father fell into a rage and said, "Oh, you lost man, you have spent the precious time and learnt nothing; are you not ashamed to appear before mine eyes? I will send you to a third master, but if you learn nothing this time also, I will no longer be your father."
The youth remained a whole year with the third master also, and when he came home again, and his father inquired, "My son, what have you learnt?" he answered, "Dear father, I have this year learnt what the frogs croak."
Then the father fell into the most furious anger, sprang up, called his people there, and said, "This man is no longer my son, I drive him forth, and command you to take him out into the forest, and kill him."
They took him forth, but when they should have killed him, they could not do it for pity, and let him go, and they cut the eyes and the tongue out of a deer that they might carry them to the old man as a token.
The youth wandered on, and after some time came to a fortress where he begged for a night's lodging.
"Yes," said the lord of the castle, "if you will pass the night down there in the old tower, go there; but I warn you, it is at the peril of your life, for it is full of wild dogs, which bark and howl without stopping, and at certain hours a man has to be given to them, whom they at once devour."
The whole district was in sorrow and dismay because of them, and yet no one could do anything to stop this. The youth, however, was without fear, and said, "Just let me go down to the barking dogs, and give me something that I can throw to them; they will do nothing to harm me."
As he himself would have it so, they gave him some food for the wild animals, and led him down to the tower. When he went inside, the dogs did not bark at him, but wagged their tails quite amicably around him, ate what he set before them, and did not hurt one hair of his head. Next morning, to the astonishment of everyone, he came out again safe and unharmed, and said to the lord of the castle, "The dogs have revealed to me, in their own language, why they dwell there, and bring evil on the land. They are bewitched, and are obliged to watch over a great treasure which is below in the tower, and they can have no rest till it is taken away, and I have likewise learnt, from their discourse, how that is to be done."
Then all who heard this rejoiced, and the lord of the castle said he would adopt him as a son if he accomplished it successfully. He went down again, and as he knew what he had to do, he did it thoroughly, and brought a chest full of gold out with him. The howling of the wild dogs was henceforth heard no more; they had disappeared, and the country was freed from the trouble.
After some time he took it into his head that he would travel to Rome. On the way he passed by a marsh, in which a number of frogs were sitting croaking. He listened to them, and when he became aware of what they were saying, he grew very thoughtful and sad. At last he arrived in Rome, where the Pope had just died, and there was great difficulty as to whom they should appoint as his successor. They at length agreed that the person should be chosen as pope who should be distinguished by some divine and miraculous token. And just as that was decided on, the young count entered into the church, and suddenly two snow-white doves flew on his shoulders and remained sitting there. The ecclesiastics recognized therein the token from above, and asked him on the spot if he would be pope. He was undecided, and knew not if he were worthy of this, but the doves counselled him to do it, and at length he said yes. Then was he anointed and consecrated, and thus was fulfilled what he had heard from the frogs on his way, which had so affected him, that he was to be his Holiness the Pope. Then he had to sing a mass, and did not know one word of it, but the two doves sat continually on his shoulders, and said it all in his ear.
❋ Those were clever doves!